A Carlisle woman battling cancer said she is overwhelmed with the support and generosity of the area’s swimming and diving community after receiving more than $13,000 to help with her medical expenses.
“It was just an amazing thing,” said Erica Chronister-Keim, whose son, Dillon Novak, is a senior diver at Big Spring High School. “It made me feel pretty special, and it was very humbling to have that many people reach out to make a difference for me and my family.”
Erica has Stage 4 colon cancer and will undergo pelvic exenteration surgery June 6 at Johns Hopkins. She described the surgery as “pretty radical” and said she doesn’t know which organs doctors will have to remove.
“It just depends on what they find,” she said. “I’m scared to death, to say the least, but they feel this is the only way to ‘cure’ me because the cancer just keeps coming back.”
This is the third time Erica has faced a recurrence of the disease.
She was first diagnosed with cancer in 2013 at age 40. She recalled her doctor recommending a colonoscopy as a precaution, her hesitation because of the cost, and the shock of learning the test had revealed a cancerous mass.
She said everything moved very quickly after that, and she was declared cancer-free following radiation and chemotherapy
“It was all clear,” she said. “It was gone. Then in 2016, it returned. I got the all-clear once again, and then in 2017 they discovered the cancer wasn’t completely gone.”
As a result, Erica, who is employed by Medical Arts Allergy in Carlisle, has been unable to work since 2016, and her medical bills continue to accumulate.
She said it all began with a Facebook post she made when Dillon, who won a gold medal in the PIAA state diving championships this year, was preparing for the competition.
“The only appointment I could get was on the day he was competing in states,” Erica said. “I was angry at the cancer. I was determined that it would not rob me of the opportunity to see him compete.”
Eventually, the championships were postponed due to a winter storm, and her Facebook post brought the community together.
That’s when Brandy McCabe, who has two daughters on the Big Spring swim team, decided to set up a Go Fund Me account. McCabe also worked with several other people from the swimming and diving community to organize the Flips for Erica fundraiser.
“We made it a diving invitational and sent out information to a lot of diving coaches and programs in the area,” said Les Stover, head coach at Big Spring. “There was a $20 entrance fee, and we had a competition that was open to middle school, high school and master divers.
“We had 21 divers compete,” he said. “In addition, we sold T-shirts, there was a silent auction with lots of donations from the community, and a concession stand.”
He said collection containers were also available, and Big Spring school personnel held a dress-down day.
But Stover said the group isn’t quitting.
“With everything altogether, we raised $13,100, but our goal is $20,000,” he said. “We have a few other things planned.”
Donations to the Go Fund Me account are still being accepted.
Erica said the money has enabled her to pay her medical bills and save for the upcoming surgery, which will follow Dillon’s graduation.
“It’s been a fight, but it’s working out,” she said. “We’re very thankful.
“There has always been a lot of love in the swimming and diving community, and for them to go out of their way to put something like this together for me and my family, and to have the turnout there was, I just felt very loved. … Our swimming and diving community is one great big family, and they really showed just how true that is. It’s bigger than Big Spring.”
Stover said it was the least they could do for Erica and her family.
“She has been very helpful in raising funds for our swimming and diving program, so we really felt that we needed to reciprocate and give back to her for all she’s done,” he said.